Twitter More Prominent in Customer Relations, Crisis Response

In its few years of existence, Twitter has grown in use from simply a way to answer "What are you doing?" to being a way to answer "Where can I find information important to my life and/or profession?" The latest East Coast snowstorm provided evidence of how businesses are taking to the medium. The New York Times reports:

Some travelers stranded by the great snowstorm of 2010 discovered a new lifeline for help. When all else fails, Twitter might be the best way to book a seat home.

While the airlines’ reservation lines required hours of waiting — if people could get through at all — savvy travelers were able to book new reservations, get flight information and track lost luggage. And they could complain, too.

Since Monday, nine Delta Air Lines agents with special Twitter training have been rotating shifts to help travelers wired enough to know how to “dm,” or send a direct message. Many other airlines are doing the same as a way to help travelers cut through the confusion of a storm that has grounded thousands of flights this week.

But not all travelers, of course. People who could not send a Twitter message if their life depended on it found themselves with that familiar feeling that often comes with air travel — being left out of yet another inside track to get the best information.

For those in the digital fast lane, however, the online help was a godsend.

Danielle Heming spent five hours Wednesday waiting for a flight from Fort Myers, Fla., back home to New York. Finally, it was canceled.

Facing overwhelmed JetBlue ticketing agents, busy signals on the phone and the possibility that she might not get a seat until New Year’s Day, she remembered that a friend had rebooked her flight almost immediately by sending a Twitter message to the airline.

She got out her iPhone, did a few searches and sent a few messages. Within an hour, she had a seat on another airline and a refund from JetBlue.

“It was a much, much better way to deal with this situation,” said Ms. Heming, 30, a student at New York University. “It was just the perfect example of this crazy, fast-forward techno world.”

Although airlines reported a doubling or tripling of Twitter traffic during the latest storm, the number of travelers who use Twitter is still small. Only about 8 percent of people who go online use Twitter, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a nonprofit organization that studies the social impact of the Internet.

“This is still the domain of elite activist customers,” Mr. Rainie said.

Of course, an agent with a Twitter account cannot magically make a seat appear. More often than not, the agent’s role is to listen to people complain.